Baseball "trailblazer" Adam Dunn will be inducted into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame this weekend. Who knew he was ahead of his time?
You either loved Dunn or hated him. There was no in-between with "The Big Donkey." While some say he loafed his way through eight years with the Reds, others point to the stats next to Dunn's name. It's a fact: The Reds are still looking for a player, any player, in the 10 years since Dunn left, who can consistently deliver 40 home runs and 100 RBI per season.
But too many of us these days don't want information. We want affirmation. And the "Never-Dunners" always will latch onto fly balls he never got to and a country club mentality they believe Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. spread among the Reds' clubhouse.
Like those lounge chairs both imported to the front of their dressing stalls. They were actually robotic massage chairs. But why quibble?
The mere fact that Dunn was the leading vote-getter in this year's Reds Hall of Fame balloting might mean that time is the greatest healer. It also might mean everything old in baseball is new again.
“Anytime you lead any kind of vote it means a little bit more than someone selecting you," Dunn told me. "I know there were great nominees that I would have voted for as well."
"An amazing thing happens when Adam Dunn comes to the plate," veteran baseball writer Jayson Stark, then with ESPN, told me 12 years ago. "The ball never touches the ground. It's either a home run or strikeout or a walk."
Of course, Stark was being facetious. But what is Major League Baseball today?
In baseball speak, they call what Dunn did the "Three True Outcomes," when it's pitcher and batter alone who control an at-bat: a walk, a strikeout or a home run.
At this time a year ago, more than 33 percent of the time when a batter came to the plate in a major league game, he either walked, whiffed or homered. When Dunn retired at the end of the 2014 season, he was the "King of the Three True Outcomes." Just about 50 percent of the time Dunn came to bat in 2001 games over his 14-year career, he either walked, whiffed or homered. He was truly a man ahead of his time. But he was a lot more than that -- feel free to look it up.
In a five-year span, from 2004-2008, Dunn hit 40 or more home runs in each of those seasons. He drove in 100 or more runs in four of those years, missing a fifth year by just eight. His on-base percentage, the holy grail of sabermetrics, was a robust .380 in his eight years with the Reds.
Somebody noticed. If they didn't, he wouldn't have been fitted for a Reds Hall of Fame jacket. I caught up with Dunn while he was driving his family back to Texas from a vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Yes, driving -- unconventional, maybe, for a guy who made more than $112 million in his major league career. Retirement, he said, was full of a few surprises.
"I thought retirement would be golf everyday, fish every day," he said. "But with four kids, that’s tough to do.”
It's not like he has got his feet up on some desk, deep in the heart of Texas. Dunn recently moved into the world of movies, investing in the 2013 Academy Award-nominated film "The Dallas Buyers Club." Star Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his work. I asked Dunn, who did a cameo as a bartender (a non-speaking role) if he felt slighted by the Academy.
“I didn’t -- I gave it my best performance. That kinda stuff’s not for me," he said. "Perfect in my world means you’re done. Perfect in their world is nine or 10 more takes.”
Even though like Dunn, McConaughey is a fellow University of Texas Longhorn, it was another friend who persuaded him to invest. Dunn told me there are several more movies that he's backing. But Hollywood, like baseball, is all about financing and timing.
Turns out, Dunn's timing about 20 years ago was perfect for him and the Reds.
The Reds drafted Dunn in the second round of the 1998 MLB draft. He was supposed to be the starting quarterback at the University of Texas. But why get beaten up when you can do the same thing to a baseball?
The Reds drafted Austin Kearns in the first round that year. Griffey Jr. arrived by trade in the winter of 1999. It was all part of then-General Manager Jim Bowden's grand plan of having three sluggers in his outfield the day home run-friendly Great American Ball Park opened.
In theory, it worked. In actuality, not so much.
In his time as the Reds' GM, Bowden couldn't find decent pitching. Joey Hamilton, Pete Harnisch, Elmer Dessens and five incarnations of Jose Rijo couldn't produce enough wins to lift the Reds any higher than third place during Dunn's time with the Reds. Five of his eight years here, the Reds finished dead last in the division.
“We just didn’t seem to have that dominated starter," Dunn said. "Most good teams have at least one or two dominant guys. We had Aaron Harang, and at times he was that dominant guy. Other than that, it was a mix and match, piece 'em together and see what happens.”
What happened, more often than not, was a lot of bad baseball. Dunn and Griffey Jr. caught most of the wrath. Junior was perceived as someone who didn't care and was hurt a lot. Dunn was perceived as a loafer. Dunn was gone 116 games into the 2008 season, traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In return for a guy who had hit 270 home runs and had a .380 on-base percentage, the Reds got a bucket of bolts. Micah Owings was good for about 15 minutes here. Looking back, Dunn saw no scenario that would have kept him in a Reds uniform.
“No, I don’t. I obviously would have love to have stayed. Things happen for a reason," he said. "It worked out for the Reds, what happened. Looking back, there are no hard feelings. I will say this, it was handled as good as it possibly could have been handled.”
And it worked out well for Dunn. After a half season in Arizona, the Washington Nationals, with Bowden running the show, signed Dunn to a two-year, $20 million deal. Then, the Chicago White Sox ponied up with a four-year, $56 million contract. Dunn wound up hitting 192 more home runs after leaving the Reds. After a mid-season trade to the Oakland A's, he retired. His 1,317 walks are the 40th most in baseball history. His 462 career home runs are the 35th most in MLB history. His 2,379 career strikeouts are third most. Dunn remains the "King of the Three True Outcomes" in MLB history.
And this weekend, he'll join legends such as Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Sean Casey in the Reds Hall of Fame. Even if he doesn't have a speech worked up yet.
“Speech? I’ll wing it," he said. "I’m glad to hear that. First I’ve heard of it. I’ll take it. I like to shoot from the hip. I think I can wing it.”
Too many people think that's what he did here for eight seasons. They're wrong.
Now then to some thoughts that I've processed over the course of the last few days of my life. ...
Quite an All-Star night for Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett. Both homered in the American League's 8-6 win over the National All-Stars. It's only fitting that the game was "home run happy." What is MLB anymore?
Another cautionary tale about social media, courtesy of the Milwaukee Brewers' Josh Hader. At the peak of his relatively short baseball career (Tuesday night's All-Star Game) someone dug deep into his Twitter account and found comments that would offend just about any normal thinking human being. Hader Tweeted the comments when he was 17.
I tell this everyone who posts on Twitter and Facebook: Everything you say can and will be used against you at some point in your life. If you are someone who may be seeking employment in the next 40 years or someone trying to remain employed, do not post anything that may be offensive to anyone. Whether that is right or wrong (and Hader's comments were appalling), this is the world we live in. If you have those kinds of thoughts, keep them to yourself and seek some sort of professional help. Social media is not your friend; it is a window into the kind of person you are.
As if we needed it, we now have further proof why Terrell Owens spent most of his NFL career as a hired gun. In a classic "Hooray for me and to hell with you" moment, Owens now says he'll deliver his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech at his college, Tennessee-Chattanooga, rather than with the other members of the class of 2018. Owens said he's doing it for players like Jerry Kramer, who have been passed over for induction for too many years. Kramer, by the way, is in the class of 2018 and will attend. To their credit, those running the Pro Football Hall of Fame won't mention Owens next month at the induction ceremony and will mail his gold jacket to him.
Thank God those insipid days of "Batman and Robin" are gone. As I've said many times, the Bengals started getting better when the characters were removed from their locker room and were replaced with character. ...
I get why the National Football League Players Association has a problem with gambling on major league sporting events now being legalized nationally (pending state laws). One of the NFLPA's major "suits" said last week the players are afraid that it will "dehumanize" them in a way, as fantasy sports have done. Well, OK. The other side of that argument is that the NFL remains the king of all sports for two reasons: gambling (up until now illegal, except in Las Vegas) and fantasy football. ...
I'm not yet buying into the belief that, long term, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be better off now that LeBron James is gone. But this is a pretty interesting scenario. ...
The Reds' season will fire up again Friday night. The fear, of course, is that after four days off, it might be tough for the Reds to pick up where they left off. I'm betting Eugenio Suarez will be just fine. In fact, if you look at his numbers (71 RBI, tops in the NL, eighth in OBP, 21st in RBI, eighth in SLG and 12th in batting average), he has to be in the discussion, right now, for National League Most Valuable Player. ...
Let's get a head start and wish a happy 71st birthday to the great Carlos Santana. He will be celebrating that Friday.
The great Tito Puente wrote this song. But it was Santana who took it all the way to No. 13 back in 1971. Where Puente's version featured the flute, this version features one of the greatest guitar players in the history of music. This is from Santana's 1971 album "Abraxas," which also features a cover of the Fleetwood Mac song "Black Magic Woman."
"Oye Como Va," translated from Spanish, means "how's it going." And by 1971, it was going very well for Santana. He already had produced several albums and had one of the most stirring performances at the original Woodstock. He has 10 Grammy Awards and three more Latin Grammys.
Santana's keyboard player, Greg Rolie, takes the lead on vocals on this song.
And 71 years ago Friday, Carlos Santana, one of the greatest guitar players ever, came upon this earth in Jalisco, Mexico.